Posted on April 27, 2018
An International Forum for Collaboration on Gender and Development
On March 1, 2018, I attended this year’s Women Working for the World (WW4W) conference, an annual event in Bogota, Colombia for women to gather and discuss issues of gender and development in Colombia and internationally. Catalina Escobar, founder of Juan Felipe Escobar Foundation (JuanFe) and the WW4W conference, works to amplify the unrecognized violence against women and girls in her country. Through her work to change the cycle which locks Colombian women in poverty, Catalina realized a significant root cause is the prevalence of gender-based violence that is unprosecuted and often unrecognized.
The 2018 WW4W conference featured numerous speakers focusing on the theme of unseen gender-based violence. One speaker was Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights attorney, social justice advocate, and law professor, who pioneered the theory of intersectionality. Intersectionality describes the interconnected nature of systems of power and identity such as race, class, and gender. Weissberg Foundation supports international speakers like Kimberlé Crenshaw at the annual WW4W conference to amplify and deepen these global conversations around racial equity, gender justice, and structural violence.
Crenshaw’s work shifts the frame so we can see structures that were previously rendered invisible and provides a great lens with which to connect the more specific topics of the other conference speakers. The leaders at this year’s conference and the organizations they represent all work to raise up the voices of women who are marginalized in their community, deeply affected by intersectional power structures, and often deliberately invisibilized. The conference gives women the platform to tell their own story and advocate for change that will benefit them.
- Angela, a young graduate of the JuanFe school, shared her experiences of sexual violence, an all too frequent norm in the lives of young girls living in poverty. The social services and education at the JuanFe school gave her the tools and resources she needed to thrive; she now works as an assistant in the Hotel Las Americas in Cartagena. She spoke to the lifelong effects of sexual violence, but also to the transformative power of JuanFe’s holistic programming.
- Marta Lucia Ramirez, a Colombian lawyer and politician who is currently running for president, spoke about her experiences in her earlier government positions, including Minister of Economic Policy & Foreign Trade, Minister of Defense, a senator, and an ambassador to France. Throughout her career, she fought limitations on women, including insisting the government allow women to become generals in the national armed forces before accepting the position of Minister of Defense. Marta deeply understands the marginalization of violence. She wants political agencies to enact gender equity policies and to shift the conversation on violence from the guise of a private family matter into the public sphere.
- Ana Isabel Otero, Director of ANALITICOM and Founder of Share for A Life in Venezuela, visited the J.M. de los Rios hospital in 2015. Seeing that many newborns were not being fed led her to realize the full extent of the mass starvation in her country. In response, she started a social media campaign using the hashtag #ComparteporunaVida soliciting donations of money and formula to care for the babies and their mothers. Ana has since turned the campaign into an official NGO to continue to connect the resources with the women who need them most desperately across the country.
- Edit Schlaffer, Executive Director of Women Without Borders, discussed the extensive field work and data analysis her organization used to identify mothers as the source of trust and leverage for intervening in the radicalization of Middle Eastern young men. They developed The Mother School, where women are trained on how to interact effectively with their sons. A method of “bottom up” security, the program is being replicated throughout the Middle East and North Africa – some even funded by the US State Department. The work of strengthening women’s voices within their households successfully interrupts the grooming of young men for violence.
- A delegation from Rosa Blanca, a group of young women who were kidnapped from their schools at an average age of eleven and forced into service under the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People’s Army) told their stories of extreme violence. They will soon appear in international court to testify against the FARC men who are responsible – many of whom are enjoying complete immunity, including running for public office as part of the reconciliation process. These young women are invisible in the post-conflict discussions and were even excluded from financial compensation in the peace referendum. They are working for peace, but also justice.
Pat Mitchell, a leader in the American media industry and an activist for women’s empowerment, helped to cofound the WW4W conference. At this year’s convening, Pat and Catalina discussed the correlation between a growing economy, stable political system, and gender equity. This data illustrates that until Colombia works to resolve and repair gender-based violence, the country will not truly achieve the peace that it seeks.
For Colombia and for many countries around the world, including the U.S., conversations about gender violence must be moved from private spheres in to a public reckoning which reframes and renders visible the implications to the individual and the social cohesion of the country’s economic and political success.
Nina Weissberg is a trustee of the Weissberg Foundation, where she also chairs the Investment Learning Committee. Nina is the CEO of Weissberg Investment Corp, where she oversees a diverse portfolio of long-term real estate in the greater Washington region. Passionate about the alignment of mission and capital including gender-based economic empowerment, she sits on the board of Criterion Institute.